How Can I Stop This Menopausal Weight Gain?
A letter from a fellow Pauser gave me pause, until I realized we may be looking at dieting the wrong way.
This letter about weight gain and menopause recently popped into my inbox:
Help! I am so tired of all these changes from menopause. Ever since I started going through menopause, I’ve had to deal with hot flashes, sleepless nights and dryness EVERYwhere.
But one of the worst assaults has been on my waistline. I’ve always been pretty thin and in good shape…until now. It’s become a struggle to fit into/ button my jeans. I’ve always known what to do to manage my weight, but suddenly nothing is working for me. Aside from going up a size - which I am loathe to do - there has to be something that works. What can I do???!
Gaining Weight in Wichita
Weight gain during the menopausal transition is hardly uncommon. I realize this probably doesn’t make you feel better, but know that you may be doing everything you’ve always done, but that may not be enough. That’s because with menopause, things change. Weight tends to settle around your abdomen, and suddenly you may be seeing a thickened waist. Declining estrogen levels and age-related loss of muscle tissue further contribute to weight gain.
Insufficient sleep, too, contributes to weight gain. How? One way is by messing with hunger-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Sleep deprivation can raise levels of ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone, while lowering levels of leptin, which helps you feel full.
And then, there’s the more obvious: Sleeping less gives you more awake time, which gives you more opportunities to eat and snack. And if you’re tired, you may not be making the best food choices.
Here’s a real eye-opener for you:
To maintain your weight, you need to eat 200 fewer calories in your 50s than you did in your 30s and 40s.
Rather than ask what you can do, ask what you shouldn’t do.
Don’t arrive hungry. You might be looking forward to a great night out at that fabulous restaurant you’ve been dying to try. And yes, you want to enjoy every bite of that incredible meal. But…did you starve yourself all day or eat very lightly in anticipation? Maybe. If you arrive ravenous, chances are you’ll make the wrong choices. You might reach for all the wrong things to fill yourself up quickly (think bread basket), or more likely, make the wrong choices from the menu (think pasta carbonara). About an hour before you leave for dinner, have a light snack to hold you over. Here are some good choices.
Don’t think exercise will burn off all those calories. You may think all you need to do to manage your weight is to exercise more. That’s how you’ll burn off all those extra calories, right? Wrong. For one, many people vastly overestimate how many calories exercise actually burns. And for another, exercise can increase your appetite. I’m not saying exercise is a bad thing - it’s important to tone muscles and firm up, plus has undeniable health benefits. But you need to pair it with controlled eating, too.
Don’t snack from the bag. It’s such an easy habit to get into - but can be so dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with a snack here and there, but eating right out of the bag makes it nearly impossible to gauge how much you’re eating, plus makes it hard to stop once you’ve started. Instead, measure out a portion, put the bag out of sight, and sit down and munch away. And while you’re at it, go slow. Your brain needs time to get the fullness message from your digestive hormones.
Don’t forget your water. It is entirely possible for your body to mistake thirst for hunger. Before you reach for food, grab a glass of water instead: It might be just what you need to feel full and satisfied. And although the impact might be rather modest, German researchers have found that water consumption can increase your calorie burn rate.
Don’t eat the fake stuff. Prepackaged weight loss “foods” like nutrition bars and shakes may be convenient and tempting, but the satisfaction quotient tends to be on the low side. It’s tough to feel sated from processed, empty calories. Instead, reach for “real” food that is healthier and more filling (and contain the same calorie count), like a cheese stick, a serving of plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit, or a banana or apple topped with some peanut butter.
Good luck! We’re all in this together…and together, with the right knowledge, we can act!
One More Thing:
Olive Oil or Butter on Your Bread?
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Here's what I wish: I wish we all (and society!) would collectively understand and accept that our bodies at 50 and beyond are not SUPPOSED to look like they did in our 20s and 30s and 40s. I really think we have so much work to do yet on this issue. Weight gain during the menopausal transition is a near universal experience, related to the shift in our hormones and their effect on our muscles and metabolism. I refuse to accept that the answer is to "eat less," especially if I'm hungry or if I want to eat is something that brings joy & value to my life. I think the better answer is learning to love and live in our changing bodies.